Bone spurs (retrocalcaneal spur, or exostosis) can develop not only on the back of the heel, but also on the toes, mainly around the fifth (small) toe. Most often, they occur next to the toenail on the outside of the toe; on the inside of the toe near the tip, where the fifth toe presses against the fourth toe; and on the inside of the base of the toe. Bone spurs can also occur on the sides of the toes. This is usually due to wearing shoes that are too tight in the toe box, which causes the toes to press against each other. Bone spurs may also develop in the arch area of the top of the foot; this area becomes painful when you tie your shoelaces tightly or exert other pressure on that part of the foot. Formation of spurs in this area is often associated with arthritis.
The plantar fascia is a thick, ligamentous connective tissue that runs from the calcaneus (heel bone) to the ball of the foot. This strong and tight tissue helps maintain the arch of the foot. It is also one of the major transmitters of weight across the foot as you walk or run. That's why tremendous stress is placed on the plantar fascia.
Heel spurs may or may not cause symptoms. Symptoms are usually related to the plantar fasciitis. You may experience significant pain. Your heel pain may be worse in the morning when you first wake up or during certain activities.
The diagnosis of heel pain and heel spurs is made by a through history of the course of the condition and by physical exam. Weight bearing x-rays are useful in determining if a heel spur is present and to rule out rare causes of heel pain such as a stress fracture of the heel bone, the presence of bone tumors or evidence of soft tissue damage caused by certain connective tissue disorders.
Non Surgical Treatment
Heel spurs and plantar fasciitis are treated by measures that decrease the associated inflammation and avoid reinjury. Local ice applications both reduce pain and inflammation. Physical therapy methods, including stretching exercises, are used to treat and prevent plantar fasciitis. Anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen or injections of cortisone, are often helpful. Orthotic devices or shoe inserts are used to take pressure off plantar spurs (donut-shaped insert), and heel lifts can reduce stress on the Achilles tendon to relieve painful spurs at the back of the heel. Similarly, sports running shoes with soft, cushioned soles can be helpful in reducing irritation of inflamed tissues from both plantar fasciitis and heel spurs. Infrequently, surgery is performed on chronically inflamed spurs.
Approximately 2% of people with painful heel spurs need surgery, meaning that 98 out of 100 people do well with the non-surgical treatments previously described. However, these treatments can sometimes be rather long and drawn out, and may become considerably expensive. Surgery should be considered when conservative treatment is unable to control and prevent the pain. If the pain goes away for a while, and continues to come back off and on, despite conservative treatments, surgery should be considered. If the pain really never goes away, but reaches a plateau, beyond which it does not improve despite conservative treatments, surgery should be considered. If the pain requires three or more injections of "cortisone" into the heel within a twelve month period, surgery should be considered.